In the annals of golf history, Alan Shepard’s shots from the lunar sand may be the most famous swings ever taken. And after 50 years, image analysts have finally determined how far his golf balls went.
When America’s first man in space was assigned to be commander of Apollo 14, he saw an opportunity to create the 1971 equivalent of a viral moment. So, before his trip to the Moon, he commissioned a custom 6-iron head that he could attach to the end of a lunar sampling tool in lieu of a regular golf club.
Then, as his time on the lunar surface came to an end, he stood in front of a TV camera with his makeshift club and two golf balls. After a few one-armed swings that mainly moved regolith, he shanked his first ball into a crater. He made better contact with the second ball, though. And as it sailed out of the camera’s view, he remarked, “Miles and miles and miles.”
However, image specialist Andy Saunders recently analyzed archival stills taken by the astronauts with their Hasselblad cameras, as well as video from the lunar ascent module as it lifted off from the surface. Saunders managed to identify not only Shepard’s golf balls, but also his footprints from his stance and his divots. By comparing these to more recent satellite images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Saunders was able to measure the distance on Shepard’s second shot. The result? A rather tame 40 yards (120 feet).
Still, that’s not bad for a one-handed bunker shot taken while wearing a bulky spacesuit in weak gravity. Plus, it served as one of the Apollo program’s most memorable moments. When asked about the shot at a post-flight Congressional hearing, Shepard quipped, “I did this since I am patriotic and concerned about the security of the nation.”